MerlinThe servant lead me silently back to my chambers. The whole time Sabir hurled questions at me, “What is the significance of three guardians?”
“I do not know. He barely mentioned that. I do not think it is important.” I answered
He fired off another one, “He is an elf himself right?”
I glanced at the servant, “From what he said I believe he thinks he is.”
“You think he is mad do you not?”
“Yes.” I thought angrily
“Do you like him?”
I gave Sabir an incredulous look, “No! I find him repulsive! Besides he is most likely mentally ill!”
Sabir’s lips pulled up into a cat smirk, “He saved your life. You could’ve drowned in that little fountain.”
I sneered, “It was not little! And I would have survived either way!”
“Not if he were not there.”
“If he were not there then I would not have been there either.” I snapped.
“I think you like the idea of being an elf.”
“Not particularly so.”
“But elves are wise, strong, agile! You must be very proud…”
I stopped in my tracks and whirled around to meet his amused eyes, “Not the slightest bit! Now keep your thoughts to yourself and leave me be!”
The servant did not turn to wonder why I was stopping; he simply continued to walk, knowing I would follow him soon. And I did. Sabir stopped talking but his eyes glinted with amusement and pleasure. Every glance at him fueled my anger. Finally we made it to my chambers and I collapsed onto my bed. I got up a few minutes later and readied myself for bed. After I had washed up I began to read a book to ease my mind. I did not get past the first page for a knock sounded on my door. I knew right away who it was because the knock was very rhythmic and strangely sweet. I answered it in a flash.
Steph stood there smiling broadly, “How was your talk with Lance?”
I made a face, “Pleasant, he told me old legends.”
Steph giggled, “May I come in?”
“Yes, of course.”
I stepped out of the way and watched her jealously as she glided like a gazelle into the room, “How do you know it was Mr. Regan?” I asked.
“Oh well, we are friends of course and he requested it to me, though I’m not sure why, you are your own person.”
Suddenly I felt something slither over my foot. I jumped and then gasped, “Oh dear Baldwin! Why did you not let me know you were here? I have missed you and Tashina dearly! How is father?”
Baldwin winked, “Very well. Happier than I’ve ever seen him, except for when he’s painting. Which reminds me, he does need some easels or else he might use the walls.”
“That is good. I cannot believe that everything is working out so wonderfully today!”
“Yes but I do believe we were brought here for a purpose besides just serving the Princess.”
“Yes this man summoned me to the gardens and told me old legends. I did not believe a word he said.” I stated this proudly. All the while Steph watched us quietly and curiously.
Baldwin gave me a look of disapproval, “I am afraid, he is not the mad one.”
I blushed, “You heard Sabir and I arguing?”
“Yes of course it is hard to block from my mind. But do not worry, I will not judge you. I will simply say that he is more correct then you are.”
I glared at my snake, “Do not be absurd! How would you know?”
His eyes turned sad, “I will tell you when the time comes. But for now please entertain your guest.”
I wanted to force it out of him but the reminder that Steph was nearby made me decide otherwise. I turned back to Steph and smiled, “Sorry, just a quick reunion with my guardian.”
Steph watched Baldwin slither away curiously, “So it is true. You talk with animals.”
My brow furrowed, “Yes of course? I thought you had a guardian too!”
Steph laughed, “No of course not! Where I come from there is no such thing as animals that are so smart.”
“But does not everyone have guardians?”
“Were you not listening to the legends? Priest only gave the guardians to humans and elves.”
I froze, “Excuse me? But are you not a human?”
Steph’s eyes went wide and her face turned red, “Oh dear! I have spilled the beans haven’t I? How dreadful! I was not expecting to, until much later but I’m so used to having my mind completely exposed.” She sighed and shook her head, “No I suppose I am not privileged to be human”
“What are you then?” I blurted immediately regretting the rude question.
But Steph was gracious and smiled, “Part dwarf, and part wind maiden. Very maddening!”
I slumped into a nearby seat, “This day is the best and most confusing, surprising day of my entire life?!”
Steph looked very worried. She moved to my side, “Oh! I am so sorry! I did not mean for this to happen. Lance and I were planning to slowly give you the secrets and now two of them are already out!”
I grabbed the arm rest, “Are you saying there are more?”
Steph smacked herself across the cheek, “Sorry! And there’s no use begging we won’t tell you any more until the time is right! Now please get some sleep and forgive me!” Then she rushed from the room muttering and scolding herself.
I sighed and turned to my bed. I fell asleep immediately, my mind was exhausted from all the new information I had gotten that day.
The next day was bright as usual. I woke at sunrise ready to serve the Princess. I went down to the kitchen and waited while the cook prepared her breakfast. Meanwhile we talked about life at the palace. The cook told me all the gossip there was to know.
She told me how the King had recently became dumb and now his son did all the talking. The Prince was to take over soon, for the King was going mentally ill. She also told me how the Prince and Princess met, “It was last fall and there were strange mysterious things going on towards the South Seas. The Prince thought he was responsible … I do believe he thinks he rules the world… so he went out there to settle the rumors. But then he found that almost every rumor was true. There was a new dwarf princess who was not at all like a dwarf, she was not rough and barbaric instead she was so graceful she puts gazelles to shame. Her voice was like music floating in the breeze. Dwarf women were so jealous of her that they started riots and attempted to murder her many times over.
“Now the Dwarf King knew he could not keep his daughter there so once the Prince came the King tried to play matchmaker. The Prince found out right away and was appalled. He had only seen the Princess and he found her repulsive.
“Then one day while going for a horseback ride in the dense forest, the Prince was attacked by wild wolves. The Prince had never seen such vicious animals so he did not know what to do. The wolves killed his horse and were advancing on him when suddenly drifting through the breeze was the most divine voice any human had ever heard. The wolves were stunned and while they were, the Princess came with a dainty dagger and cut everyone of them on the heel disabling them. I do not know why but then she released them and they ran like the wind. I fear some deep magic in that woman’s voice for as soon as the Prince was safe he knelt to the ground and asked her to marry him. I swear she must have bewitched him. If you see the way he looks at her then you will see what I mean.”
I listened to this story with interest as I helped her clean up the breakfast dishes. I took the platter and just as I was about to reach for the door it flew open, barely missing me and slamming against the wall. I gasped and stepped back, I was losing my balance so I quickly placed the platter on the counter and steadied myself.
I turned to look at the person standing in the door way. I recognized her immediately for the wild woman from yesterday. Her knife was out and ready. Suddenly she pounced like a jaguar so agile and so quick, towards the cook. The cook screamed and ducked behind the counter. I watched in amazement as Bayanai catapulted herself off a table and landed perfectly on the counter. She raised her knife to stab.
Then out of pure reflex and adrenaline I somehow, with my stiff maid’s dress, leaped and slammed into Bayanai crashing onto a burning stove. Bayanai screamed in pain and threw me halfway across the room. I heard a vicious growl and then saw a yellow streak flash across the room like a lightning bolt. I scrambled to my feet and took another diving leap for Bayanai, “Leave the cook alone!” I screamed as I collided head on with Bayanai. But, I guess I was too late because I flew right past her as Sabir wildly attacked her. I had never really been in a fight before so I never knew Sabir could be so deadly. But now when I saw him fight, I didn’t think I would ever be afraid of dying by a single man’s hand with Sabir around to protect me. Bayanai had a look of pure terror on her face now and I could see by the glint in Sabir’s eyes that he was not about to stop.
I did not want to see any blood so I screamed for him to stop. But it was as though he had gone completely wild, as though he were no longer a guardian, “Sabir! No!” I once again got to my feet. I tried to grab Sabir off while avoiding snapping teeth, angry claws and a sharp knife but I had no success. The knife seemed to be everywhere at once as did Sabir’s teeth. The knife got my hand and cut deep. I yelped and grasped it to my chest, “Sabir, do not dare to shed any blood just because she pushed me!” I yelled halfheartedly.
Sabir was not listening; he growled and took a strong hold on Bayanai’s arm. I gasped as I saw blood flowing from her wound, “Oh somebody please help.” I prayed silently, and then as though he had been called, Lance Regan stepped through the doorway. He took the scene in with one smooth glance. His expression was a mess. He seemed amused yet angry, confused yet understanding. His emotions battled over his face, I did not want to see which one won.
I felt eyes burning holes in my head, I knew it wasn’t Lance because his eyes were fixed on Sabir and Bayanai, so my eyes shifted to the shadows behind him. Two maroon eyes peered at me, not with curiosity but with knowledge, gentleness and a kind of vicious wildness. Those eyes seemed to understand every worry that was going through my head.
The creature nudged Lance aside and took a step into the room. My eyes widened in awe as I realized I was probably looking at the hugest lion ever to live. I wondered how he had even fit through the door.
The creature shook his huge mass of fur and let out the most deafening roar I had ever heard. The whole kitchen shook. Pots and pans vibrated uncontrollably while a couple even fell off of their hooks. My ears screamed in protest! My mouth fell open and my knees collapsed beneath me.
Strong arms kept me from hitting the cold stone floor. They lay me down gently. I saw that it was Lance but I couldn’t understand how he had moved so fast to catch me. I tried to clear my spinning head but it only got worse. My head began to throb and my breathing became uneven. My ears rang uncontrollably. I feared I was deaf. I closed my eyes and tried once again to rearrange myself. Something rough and wet licked my face. I gasped and opened my eyes to see the lion’s maroon eyes searching mine, “I apologize for shocking you so. It was meant only to calm the fight.”
I sat up and realized that my head was suddenly very clear, even clearer then on a normal basis. The lion continued, “I am Merlin Priest. You may call me Merlin. And you are Willow are you not?”
I nodded weakly.
“Fitting name for one such as you.” the corners of his mouth turned up in what seemed to be a smile. I wasn’t sure.
I declined my head, “Thank-you.” I replied, not entirely knowing what he meant, “You are Lance’s Guardian?”
The lion shook his mane proudly, “Yes. I am his proud and loyal guardian. No one shall lay a hand on him when I am near.” He laughed, a low rumbling purr, “Although, he seems to protect me from harm at times as well. We share the burden of protection.” He narrowed his eyes at me, “You do know that Lance thinks very highly of you?”
I frowned, “No. And I find him disagreeable and uncompassionate.”
A deep rumble came again from his chest, “Is that so?” His eyes suddenly became hard and stern, “I find him overly compassionate. He may be disagreeable at times, but is not everyone at times? You do not know him well enough to judge him so.” His wild eyes searched mine, “You are very special, Willow.” He said suddenly.
Those words made their way to my heart. The air seemed to cool and a strange but familiar bitter smell scented it, “Why do you say that?”
Merlin smiled, “Only time will tell. The world has waited for you for a long time.”
With that he turned to look at Bayanai and Sabir. I stared at him in confusion. When he did not return my questioning gaze I turned as well. I never was one to press matters when people left them. I believed him when he said ‘only time will tell’.
Bayanai and Sabir had ceased fighting and Sabir was watching us with a murderous look on his face. I flinched and realized he was probably very angry at this other cat’s power over him. Lance was tenderly wrapping a bandage around Bayanai’s arm meanwhile scolding her silently. She was taking deep breaths. She glanced at me, I expected her to glare but instead she looked away quickly as though she was afraid of me. I guessed Sabir had done something to her pride.
Lance pinned the bandage in place and then helped Bayanai up. He whispered something to her and then she turned and left without a word. Lance turned and his eyes met mine. He shook his head and sighed, “You were lucky you were here. The cook has had enough close calls with that woman.”
I looked around the kitchen, “Speaking of the cook, where did she go?”
Lance chuckled deeply, “She ran out with the Princess’s food while you were doing your amazing dive for Bayanai.”
I blushed and ignored the last part, “She took the food?”
“Yes, I guess in those few moments she had to escape, she thought that was the best thing she could do to repay you.” He laughed his slanted hazel eyes crinkled up and sparkled, “This whole thing was quite the sight for one’s eyes.”
My eyes narrowed and I peered up at his face, which was towering above me, trying to read his expression, “You mean you’re not angry?”
Lance scoffed, “Why would I be?”
“You looked like you could murder Sabir and Bayanai when you were standing in the door.”
He smiled and winked making me look away in embarrassment, which only made him smile broader, “I did feel that way for one second but your dive was so funny I couldn’t keep serious for long.”
I stood up so I could take a better look at his face, I still had to lean far back to see his eyes but it was slightly better, “Stop mentioning my dive. I missed her just because Sabir got her first.”
Lance tried to keep a straight face, “I’m sorry. I won’t mention it again.”
“Do not even think of it! If you please, forget the whole thing!”
Lance took my hand in his and grinned teasingly, “I am sorry dearest Willow, I will not even dare to think of your silly dive again.”
I ripped my hand from his, “You mock me!”
Lance sighed exasperatedly, “Please Willow! I am asking for forgiveness because I must. Why can you not take my slight teasing? Are you that disagreeable?”
My mouth fell open, “You were eavesdropping! How dare you?”
Lance laughed, “I could not help it. I had to hear your opinion of me. I must say it quite surprised me.”
Suddenly Merlin Priest stepped in between us. He was nearly as tall as me, “Willow has duties to get back to. It’s her first full day working here and the Princess will not be pleased if she is busy all day.”
Lance raised an eyebrow, “There is nothing that the Princess can find to be displeased with Miss Willow no matter what Miss Willow would do.” He paused and looked at me curiously, “And neither can I.” He gazed at me like I was someone who had done something never accomplished before. I couldn’t hold his gaze for longer than a second so I looked down at the floor and shifted uncomfortably. The silence dragged on as he searched my face. Finally Sabir broke it, “Like Mr. Merlin said, the Princess is waiting.” I thought his tone had a bit of mock politeness.
I nodded quickly, and anxiously scuffled from the room. I glanced up at Lance once more before I left. His gaze was still fixed on my face as he said faintly, “Yes, the Princess is waiting.” Then he added as I stepped out the door, “Good-day Miss Willow.”
I did not reply but hurried away. I found my way to the Princess’s chambers with Sabir’s help. As soon as I stepped through the doors I was greeted with a huge hug. I was so surprised I nearly screamed. But the hug did not last for long. The Princess pulled back and smiled, “Today we shall paint in our spare time!”